Monday night was magical. The rain was peppering the streets in the Mission while neon signs reflected in the puddles like a noir film. Scurrying out of the weather and into the Make-Out Room, people’s faces lit up as they heard their favorite songs. It was like some kind of cabal or coven or secret society; everyone there spoke the same language of symbols and mythology.
We were all there for Closing Time: The Music of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Tom Waits, a DJ night that lifted people’s souls with dark and brooding music.
For years, it had been a dream of mine to throw Closing Time. Cohen, Cave and Waits are three of my favorite songwriters, but despite their rabid followings, their lugubrious music is not something DJs often play, if ever. So last September, I teamed up with DJs Omar (Popscene) and Cole (Ownership) and we threw the first one. It was so successful that we decided to do it quarterly, and last Monday night, as the Muni buses whizzed by and the rain pitter-pattered on the sidewalk, we put forth the second installment. And it was, once again, beyond perfect.
It’s strange and beautiful to be in public listening to music that you only put on when you’re alone. But that’s the thing: To really get these guys and to love their music means to value strange and beautiful things.
That’s the soup these songs come from. That’s what fills their bowls. Heartache, love, mystery, weirdos, death, travel, late-night diners, empty wine bottles and words — gorgeous, penetrating words — the music of Cohen, Cave and Waits allows us to somehow romanticize the world we live in and even romanticize ourselves.
My favorite parts of the night were every time a song came on that made someone stop what they were doing, close their eyes and disappear for a minute. I saw it happen to other people, and it happened to me: “So Long Marianne” came out of the speakers, and I immediately disengaged from conversation just so I could have a moment with a song that meant so much to me. This kind of thing happened for people all night long.
In San Francisco, it’s hard to do something that people haven’t already experienced. That’s not to say that we’re completely jaded, but when sex parties, circus performers and weird costumed bar crawls are completely normal, it’s hard to conceive of something unique. That’s also part of what made Monday special. Suddenly, people found themselves at a party they’d been wanting to go to their entire lives.
After the night was over, Omar, Cole and I sat at the bar talking about the evening and making plans for the future. All three of us have spent most, if not all, of our adult lives in San Francisco, and we’ve seen The City go through its transformations. We’re veterans of the nightlife scene and we sat around telling funny stories and comparing the kinds of old scars and wounds that can only come from a lifetime of living and loving in San Francisco. I related to them how many people had thanked us for putting on the night, and then Cole told me that someone came up to him and said, “This feels like old San Francisco.” That was the best compliment any of us could ever receive.
If this sounds like it’s bragging, that’s because it is. Sometimes, you turn a rainy Monday night in January into something very special for a few hundred people, and it’s OK to be proud of that. It’s not often enough that you can help make lots of people happy by just presenting them with something that they love.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. For more information on the next Closing Time, visit BrokeAssStuart.com and join the mailing list. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.